Opinion

Interview: Ch4's Stuart Douglas On Buying And Renting In London

Interview: Ch4's Stuart Douglas On Buying And Renting In London

We ask property developer — and co-presenter of Worst House on the Street — Stuart Douglas about London's housing market: where it's gone wrong, what he'd change — and advice for buyers and renters in the capital.

Stuart Douglas poses in a grey jacket in front of some semi-detached houses
"I believe that we could face a crisis if the construction of affordable housing in London doesn't match the number that is being taken," says Stuart Douglas

Is the London property market in crisis?

The issue for me is that the quantity of affordable housing that's available seems to be declining year on year. Schemes such as Right to Buy allow those who rent their home the opportunity to buy it and become a homeowner which is great, but this needs to be offset by more affordable homes being built. Gentrification also causes its own problems. Affordable housing gets renovated, refurbished and regenerated to cater for the private buyer, but those who now must leave these properties are located to areas outside of the capital. I believe that we could face a crisis if the construction of affordable housing in London doesn't match the number that is being taken. Quite simply, this can be avoided if London can maintain or even increase the quantity of affordable housing available.

If you could wave a magic wand over London's situation housing, what would you change?

I'd limit the number of properties that can be bought and then left empty. So many buildings that could be used as affordable housing are often owned by both private individuals and companies but never used. This is counter-productive and part of the problem.

Council style houses fronted with pretty flower beds
"The links from Cheshunt into London are great and the train station is still within the Oyster zone. Areas like this can be found all along the M25." Image: Nigel Cox via creative commons

For those fortunate enough to have a small deposit to buy in London, where are the off-the-radar/on-the-fringes areas you'd suggest exploring?

I tend to use the M25 as a good guide. Areas within the M25 radius are generally higher priced than areas outside the M25 perimeter. My parents live in Cheshunt, which is just outside the north part of the M25 and on the edge of Hertfordshire/Middlesex. The links into London are great and the train station is still within the Oyster zone. Areas like this can be found all along the M25 and it's these that I'd advise to research and invest in.

Worst House on the Street is all about doing up properties sorely in need of renovation. Are more people looking to buy this way in London, given how expensive property has become?

I think that people are now doing this in many areas around the country. If you're going to pay a premium for a house that's already refurbished, why not spend slightly less and use the money saved to renovate the property to your own taste and style. I love putting my own stamp and personality on a property, especially if I plan on living in it!

A roller of blue paint being applied to a white wall
"Why not spend slightly less and use the money saved to renovate the property to your own taste and style." Image: Theme Photos on Unsplash

Tell us about a property you did up in London, and why you're proud of it!

We [Stuart and his sister/business partner Scarlette Douglas] renovated a one-bedroom garden flat in High Barnet and transformed it into a beautiful two bedroom flat. It was special for two reasons. We were able to restore and keep all of the period features which were stunning, but more importantly, it was the first property that we renovated together. As such it was the start of our journey as sibling property developers.

For the many Londoners renting for the foreseeable, how do you suggest making their rental more homely, on the cheap?

Buy items that you can take with you when your tenancy agreement ends. Plants, ornaments, soft furnishings, frames with self-printed pictures or personal phrases, you can take these with you if you move. You can also paint or wallpaper a feature wall as it can be reversed at a minimal cost. These simple ideas can make a big difference to a rental property and you don't waste your money as you own items that you pay for.

Stuart and Scarlette Douglas posing in front of a pebbledash house covered in scaffolding
"We renovated a one-bedroom garden flat in High Barnet and transformed it into a beautiful two bedroom flat. It was the start of our journey as sibling property developers."

Do you think London's due a housing crash, or is the market too resilient?

At the time of answering this question, inflation is rising but so is the Bank of England interest rate. As such, the cost of living is increasing but so is the cost of borrowing. I can only see this having a negative impact on house prices because buyers will either be priced out of properties due to affordability implications or forced to offer below market value for properties to stay within their payment budgets. Unfortunately, this could result in less property sales. However, London often bucks the trend because there is always interest from plenty of overseas buyers, corporate companies and high net worth individuals. This will never change as London is a very desirable city to live in.

If you could live in any building in London, what would it be?

Quite simply a converted factory that's individual and unique, something that nobody else has, with the scope to renovate to my personal taste and style. It would encapsulate industrial chic with a modern twist, complete with a secret courtyard and a rooftop garden. I'm not asking for much am I?!?!

Stuart Douglas co-presents Worst House on The Street with his sister Scarlette Douglas on Channel 4, Tuesdays at 8pm.

Last Updated 13 September 2022